Students spend a relatively small amount of their time inside the walls of classrooms. From the libraries to the dining halls to the paths they jog, ’Hoos study, work, eat and play as part of a vastly wider community on Grounds. In the people they encounter, they find dedicated staff who offer essential support, whether food and safety, a compassionate ear or encouragement to try new directions. Here we highlight five of them—friends and surrogate family who collectively have more than a century of experience tending to the needs of students at UVA.
Warner Granade’s wife once wondered at a strange power of his. “You can always find stuff,” she said.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I once found a date’s contact lens on a hayride.”
As reference librarian at Alderman Library, he now finds stuff for students, faculty, researchers and the public. He took his first library job while getting a master’s in economics at Auburn University. “I thought, ‘I like this better than economics,’ ” he says.
Once, while teaching customer service to student employees, he bet them that he could make the next person looking for help walk up to him. “We saw somebody walk in the door,” he says. “I make eye contact. They see my friendly face, and they walk right up. It’s like a tractor beam. You just pull them right in.”
He’s been doing that at UVA’s libraries for half his life, spending his days at the front desk and navigating the stacks and databases, with regular walks around Grounds during breaks.
“It’s never dull in a library,” he says. “You get kind of worn down toward the end of the semester, and then the academic year gives you a little bit of a break. You refresh and come back and say, ‘Where are those kids? When are they coming back?’ ”
Greenberry’s in the Law School
Mandy Brock once walked to an unfamiliar edge, at least for her: mischievousness. “One day I didn’t wear my name tag, and I wanted to see if people knew my name,” she says.
The result? “Everyone knew my name.”
On normal days, she wears a name tag as a cashier at Greenberry’s, the café in the Law School. She hasn’t missed a day of work in 13 years. Coffee is just one thing among many for which the Law School community comes to her. A professor once told her, “Mandy, if I see a student having a bad day, I tell them to go visit you.”
She offers a sympathetic ear and a grounding presence. Sometimes students cry. Sometimes she cries with them. “I listen,” she says. “When you talk to someone and they share their story, you’re never going to forget that.”
Her station is a stop on prospective student tours and a destination for returning alumni. Professors invite her over for dinner, and students recently surprised her with recognition from a local radio station as someone making a real difference in their community.
“I was crying the whole day after that,” she said. “You just don’t know how much you touch people.”
Trees of Grounds
No dean, distinguished faculty member or any UVA president has office views that rival Jerry Brown’s on his best days. The arborist climbs high into the trees around Grounds for a living, pruning them and cutting out dead wood to keep them healthy and safe for passers underneath.
“You get up in the morning, you get to climb one of these big old trees, that’s your office,” he says. “Especially in the spring, once you get up top there you can just sit and relax and let the sun warm you up.”
There are trees on Grounds he’s climbed three dozen times or so, and he’s spent as many as seven hours in a single tree, his lunch roped up to him at midday. He's seen storms wreak havoc in an instant on years of patient work. His favorite tree won’t surprise: It's the Pratt ginkgo between the Rotunda and the chapel, planted in 1860.
Caring for trees over the long haul is not so different from caring for people, he says. “Some are healthy; some aren’t. Every tree’s different. They all need help sooner or later.”
Office of the Dean of Students
Each new ’Hoo arrives at orientation with a unique combination of excitement, anxiety, preconceived notions and bashfulness. The same is true of their parents—minus the bashfulness. As director of New Student Orientation, Tabitha Enoch offers the first welcome address they hear, and she recruits and supervises the 52 student leaders who are the face of the program.
“It really is an awesome responsibility and a privilege to get to do what we do, which is to set the tone,” she says.
That tone, in a word, is “trust.” Carefully laid ambitions can feel suddenly at risk once the tough choices of class registration and residence halls begin replacing sky’s-the-limit anticipation. Pathways of unforeseen development and change must be tended. “You thought your son was going to be this,” Enoch sometimes explains to parents, “and maybe he decides he takes a class and he’s going to be that.”
The highest compliment parents give Enoch comes when they tell her they have worries, “but I know you told me it’s going to work out.”
The highest compliment students can give her is simply to start flourishing. “You have the agency to create your own narrative,” she tells them, and then she gets to watch it happen.
Kathy McGruder has been in the heart business all her working life. It began when she was a cardiology technician doing EKGs in New Mexico and continues today in Newcomb Dining Hall where, one colleague says, “She has revolutionized swiping into the dining hall.”
To understand how, a good place to start is with what she calls “that dang list.” A few years ago, the class of 2013 trustees published what they called “113 Things to Do Before We Graduate.” Tucked in the middle of it was “Hug Ms. Kathy in Newcomb.”
“It is just really easy to love someone that allows you to love them, that allows you to accept them,” she says. “I just refuse to let anyone feel as if they don’t belong. I just want people to know that wherever I am, everybody is welcome. So many people do flips and jumps just to fit in, and that’s unnecessary.”
She almost never uses the word “students.” Her go-to term is “babies.”
“I get to know some of the greatest actors, lawyers, doctors, nurses, athletes, international politics or whatever on the face of the earth as the unrefined product,” she says. “And then to see it refined and kick tail, that’s what I get. … I’m a college student. I should have a degree, all the stuff I’ve learned from these babies.”